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Solas tells the story of us all with 'Shamrock City'

WANT TO GO?

"Mountain Stage"

With Solas, Michael Martin Murphy, Sean Keane, Mark Mulcahy and Logan Brill

WHEN: 7 p.m. Sunday

WHERE: Culture Center Theater

TICKETS: Advance $15, at the door $25.

INFO: 1-800-594-8499 or www.mountainstage.org

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- "Shamrock City," Irish-American folk group Solas' latest record, isn't meant to just be another Irish immigration story, but a story about all immigration.

Seamus Egan, who appears with the Celtic band on Sunday's "Mountain Stage," said, "Unless you're a first nation people and you're here, you came from someplace. Somebody in your family made a decision to get on a boat or whatever and take a leap into the unknown."

In this country, it's practically the story of us all.

"Shamrock City" has been more than 100 years in the making. It's based on the true story of Michael Conway, Egan's great, great uncle, an Irishman who left his mother country to work in the copper mines of Butte, Mont.

In those days, the city was thriving. Butte was not just the capital of Montana, it was the capital of copper, and thousands of immigrants from all around the world passed through on their way to the mines.

Egan's uncle worked in the mines, but he also had a lucrative side job.

"He was also a bare-knuckled boxer," Egan said. "The story goes that he was supposed to throw a fight that was organized by the local sheriff."

But Conway didn't, and he was murdered for the trouble.

"Beaten to death by two policemen," Egan said.

This was the story Egan's father told him, the same one his own father had told him, and the Celtic musician he always remembered it. So, 10 years ago, when Solas was supposed to play a show in Butte, he mentioned it to his father.

"He told me if I had a couple of days, to take a look around and see if I could find anything out," Egan said.

And that's what he did. He got to Montana, did a little research, tried to find where his uncle was buried and looked around to see if he could imagine Butte as Michael Conway would have.

It turned out not to be so hard.

"A lot of the history is preserved," Egan said. "A lot of the head frames for the mines are still preserved. All the old buildings are still there, and so it doesn't take much of imagination to step back in time and see the spirits and ghosts of the old mines walking the street."

And so, around a hundred years after that relative's death, Solas is telling his story and what happened to him.

Egan said it was a huge challenge for the band.

"Certainly for us, we'd never really tackled a project like this, as a band," he said. "The story and the concept were challenging -- and also, we'd never written an entire album ourselves."

But it was an important story for them to tell and not just to lay to rest an old, family ghost. Immigration has sort of lagged in the national conversation in America. "It's not at the top of the headlines," he said.

And even when people are talking about immigration, often they're against it or trying to stop it, which Egan finds astonishing.

"Immigration is woven into the fabric of this country," he said.

People forget that. Solas would like to help remind them.

In addition to the record, the band has been collecting immigration stories from others on its website, www.solasmusic.com.

"They're amazing stories," he said. "It's an example of how a large part of the country came to be."

Watching the filmed stories, Egan said, was hypnotic and affirming.

"And they're not all about Irish immigrants as well."

Released in 2013, the record has received some nice attention. Egan also said the story was being developed as a stage production, which he thought was very exciting.

He hoped people would enjoy the record and the website and that it would also make them think a little.

"I hope people find it interesting," he said. "I find it interesting."

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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